The proceeding years since 1959 when Colin Maccinnes issued his novel ‘Absolute Beginners’ have revealed that he was simultaneously cataloging and presenting something that would echo a seismic shift in Britains cultural landscape. A fictional insider/outsider observation on street style and the kicking in of a cultural shift in ideas across the nation, relaying the emergence of a new genertion. A generation with little memory for the previous years almighty hardships, its sacrifices and struggles, a generation free to dream over fresh ideas and sweet new influences from further afield than Its birth-nations shores, new attitudes and channels with which to celebrate and extend hard fought for ideas of freedom.
Somewhere in my fuzzy memory of a Macciness book jacket are the lines ‘Macciness caught it first and caught it best’ or something like that and yes the genius here is to have actually caught something first, recognised the importance this periods possibilities would open up. Within its pages (and especially the books title) it celebrated the birth of optimism and excitement that captured a moment that would continue to ricochet and reverberate across the coming decade. Macciness was writing from the centre, actually a pre-centre of the whole youth culture shebang, a position of forward looking celebration.
If Maccinnes caught it spectacularly right with his eye witness report from the birth of a new period an opposite end of street cult story telling dealt with pure exploitation. In contrast to the ‘reveal’ contained within the pages of ‘Absolute Beginners’ the Richard Allen authored Skinhead series from the seventies sought to deliver a simpler take on it’s times. Written very much from ‘within’ the era this was a formulaic collection of titles that ticked boxes marked relevant style references, mindless violence and crude titilation. Dumb, easily recognisable youth capers that hit the spot for their intended market. In real life the author was James Moffat, a seasoned pulp novelist churning out by-numbers stories, in direct response to the publishers brief, a brief forged on nothing more than a chase for the next opportunity of fast, easy money. Any lingering charm for the series can be claimed in the name of naive memories of discovering them as they were intended, in the name of cheap teenage thrills and the excitement and immediacy of the books covers.
In recent years a wave of street cult minded books have appeared across an array of formats offering various levels of satisfactory return. More often than not they offer personal reminisces of times spent within any one of the different late 20th century subculture revival groups that reappeared and caught different imaginations with an equal fierce, obsessional force that undeniably meant as much to the participants as they did for the original devotees of those scenes. Golden year memories of fun, freedom and favourite jackets/shoes/nights out and records. Capturing the mood, championing the cause and attempting to bottle (or at least explain and contain, define and deliver) interesting insights into the past is no mean feat especially with the close, personal nature of the stories being told. The best capture a genuine mood from the times they recall and mix it with wholly believable, amusing tales. Stories coated in just the right amount of naive teenage-caper-charm.
Away from the purely biographical recollections of much loved youths gone by have been fictional based books on similar lines. Personal recollections can coast along along on the quality of the tale to be told in tandem with the breadth of the authors memory and writing style. To create a fictional setting and keep in check the period references it contains without drifting into easily reached for cultural signifiers and sentences that read like a list of buzz words has proven to be much trickier.
With the recent reissue of his debut novella ‘All About My Girl’ (along with his second book ‘All or Nothing’) author Jason Brummell get things just about spot on. Both books are set smack bang in the centre of the 1960’s at the height of mods emergence as the purest manifestation of teenage freedoms. The authors obvious love for the era and the scene it covers is only half the story, it’s his genuine knowledge and attraction for the details, (THE word at the core of the idea of mod) that makes the books so enjoyable. The early part of ‘All About My Girl’ introduces characters whose friendship is forged in their deep obsession with all things mod. The clothing references, the nightclub based rituals, the sounds and spaces they move to and weave through perfectly mesh with and heighten everything good and correct about true insider recollections of that time. Brummells fictional scenes do everything they should – revealing the all encompassing excitement found below everyday surfaces, alternate worlds of dark, sweaty, clubs filled with glorious sound, experienced and heightened via the not-too-discreet tilt supplied by the chosen pharmaceutical enhancers of the time.
Threaded through the books storyline are nestled factual references to the times, well known incidents that recall the cultural shifts that occurred, causing characters whose backgrounds and lifestyles had previously remained apart, parallel in a shared city, to cross paths and interact. Whilst the centre of the book revolves around the mod youths and their world, it introduces a London of bent coppers, simplistic brutal gangsters, upmarket doctors and runaway northern teens – all seeking a route to new, improved lives , all chasing personal objectives – all low life-wannabe princes (and princesses) of their own imagined futures.
Written in short, sharp chapters that serve to heighten the pace of the situations and times, the books actual storylines sometimes struggle against the strength of the descriptive scenes that feel as if presented via a stream of pristine, vignettes, a constant flicker of flash frames. That’s not a complaint – both books are speedy, engaging reads, that race along revealing everything they need to draw the reader into the world. It’s stirling, enjoyable stuff.
Both Jason Brummells books are available via his Suave Collective publishing company, an enterprise he has recently expanded to offer a platform of assistance to others writing on subjects in similar vein. Investigate, support and pick up The Suave Collective’s books here